Wednesday, 27 June 2012

St Brynach's Church

Hidden in a valley contiguous to the modern A48, formally the old Roman road connecting the garrisons at Cardiff and Carmarthen, is St Brynach's church.

This medieval church once served the parish of Penllyn but became isolated and now stands alone in its secluded setting with the only access being via a narrow sunken lane which leads down from Llanblethlian near the New Cross Inn. 

St Brynach's church is a place unspoiled by 'improvements' or alterations from the Victorian period, or encroached upon by modern development; it is a place where the sounds of modern life simply melt-away and it is well worth a visit. This church, even in the year 2012 is without electricity, heating and lighting hence lending itself to something redolent of the atmosphere of days gone past. 

The church was constructed sometime during the twelfth century and contains many of its original features such as a series of twelfth century stone benches, a fine fifteenth century roof and the remains of medieval wall paintings; one has been exposed beneath the Reformation whitewash at the east end of the chancel and depicts St Catherine on the wheel.

The keys for the church can be obtained from the New Cross Inn and you are at liberty to look inside at your leisure: one can even ascend up into the bell tower itself up the original spiral staircase, hence the building can be fully explored.

(The east-end of the chancel has an exposed medieval wall painting, no-doubt one of many in this church that was covered - up during the Reformation.)

There is a curious story to one of our visits, which was in 2004 and was the first time we had visited St Brynach's: Mark relates the story.

Being the first time we had visited this church we were keen to explore; it was a fine summer evening and there was no-one at the church but ourselves. We had been at the church for around fifteen minutes, Jonathan was inspecting the back of the church and I had decided to sit on the base of the cross opposite the main entrance when I had the curious feeling that I was being watched. I apprehended a figure 90 degrees to my right.  Someone was stood at the entrance to the church yard and was looking in my direction.  I was quite surprised to see someone else here as we had not seen anyone on our way down and there was certainly no-one else here during our visit.

I looked at this figure for no longer than two seconds and continued with my sojourn. 

I saw that this figure was wearing something purple that covered most of its body, including its head which I took to be some sort of frock and hat; this struck me as being unusual attire for someone to be wearing in the middle of the countryside on a summer's evening, but because of this I deduced that the figure was female and was wearing some type of formal dress and assumed that there was due to be some sort of ceremony at the church, a wedding perhaps, although I did think that this was unusual due to the fact that the time was around eight in the evening and that the church is seldom used; there is barely enough space for one car to park. 

A second possibility which struck me was that, even though the nearest houses are some distance away, this person was perhaps a local out walking their dog, although as stated earlier we saw no one else on our way down.

After around twenty seconds I decided to go over and say hello.  As I approached the gate I could see that the figure had gone, but decided to go over anyway. 

I opened the gate and fully expected to see this person walking up the old sunken lane but both sides of the lane were empty!  I was very surprised by this but then I thought that this person must have crossed the old stone stile which leads into the field opposite the church gate.

 (The gate where the figure in purple was seen. The stile leading into the field opposite can be seen in the background)                           

I hopped over the stile fully expecting to see the figure I had seen at the church gate, nothing however but a small herd of cows nonchalantly eating grass greeted me.  I was both flummoxed and intrigued as to how this person could have evaded me so quickly. There was no possibility that a living person could have evaded and disappeared so swiftly as there was quite simply no where they could have gone without being seen unless it was a deliberate hoax, but this is highly unlikely.

It was only when all logic was exhausted that the thought that I might have unwittingly seen some sort of apparition occurred to me. I was alone in this isolated country lane with nothing but the sound of birds tweeting and a few butterflies fluttering around me. 

Jonathan was still in the church yard as I had only been gone a few minutes.  I related to him the tale and we both agreed that it added an extra degree of interest to our visit, I was however annoyed with myself for not looking longer as I only glanced at the figure for a few seconds.  It would be interesting to see if anyone else has had a similar experience at St Brynach's.

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